Monday, 4 January 2010

Roman Holiday

Happy New Year! During the holiday break, I came across a report in The Largs & Millport Weekly News, a major source of information for Cunninghame residents. The article was entitled "Was Largs a Roman Holiday Resort?". I'm pretty sure the answer is "No".

Romans on the Clyde Coast

Map of Roman Clyde Coast

As a venerable old emperor, I took the liberty of consulting the relevant OS map (pictured left, with modifications so as not to contravene the Crown Copyright). Here, you can see (top right) the very end of the Antonine Wall, as it runs down to the Clyde at Old Kilpatrick. You can also see the forts of Old Bishopton (on the grounds of Whitemoss Farm) and Barochan (on Barochan Hill). At Bishopton, no traces remain above ground, but finds of pottery excavated in the 1950s demonstrate that the fort belonged to the Antonine frontier system. By contrast, excavation in the 1980s at Barochan, where humps and bumps can be seen in some scrubby woodland, showed that the fort was from an earlier period (usually termed "Agricolan"), some 50 years before the Antonine Wall.

Moving left, you can see the fortlet at Lurg Moor, which was probably associated with the Bishopton fort. (Fragments of Antonine pottery were found during excavation in the 1950s.) And then, moving round the coast, we come to Outerwards, where another Antonine fortlet was excavated in 1970. And that's it. The Roman army left no further traces in Largs district.

The Largs newspaper report mentions "the days when the Romans resided by its shores", but sadly this is probably fantasy. The "old Roman coins and paving underneath the Post Office in Main Street", allegedly found in 1820, were never substantiated. Enquiries in the 1970s failed to turn up any sign of the coins, and it is anybody's guess what the paving tiles were. The "Roman well found in Nelson Street" is probably a half-remembered recollection of a roughly circular Bronze Age burial cist excavated there in the 1950s in advance of construction work. And the final piece of evidence, that "Knock Hill was a Roman fort", is -- unfortunately -- mistaken. Knockside Hill (or Knock Hill), just above Largs, has produced two small cairns, which are presumably prehistoric. There were no associated finds.

It is quite likely that Romans traversed the river valleys down to Irvine Bay, but we are a long way from imagining Romans promenading along the front at Largs.


  1. Hi Antoninus...
    Missed the report, thanks for posting.
    Just thought I'd add that archaeologists have identified traces of a Roman road linking Lurg Moor with Outerward. the road continues on past the Knock hill fort in the general direction of Largs. The suggestion is that it may have led to Irvine Bay.

    Louie Pastore

  2. Thanks for the information, Louie.

    Just for the record, and before any Cunninghame residents get too excited, the Knock Hill prehistoric vitrified hillfort that you mention (Grid ref. NS 203 629) is not the same as the Knock Hill (or Knockside Hill) known to Largs residents (Grid ref. NS 258 583), which (as you can see from the grid refs.) is a good bit further south (and, thus, nearer Largs).

    Nevertheless, you are quite right that there appears to be a Roman road heading south from Lurg Moor, though how far it goes is another question.